×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Nashville Panel Knocks Down Rationales for Country’s Women Problem

CMT and Variety co-sponsored "Breaking Down the Barrier: A Conversation About Women in Country Music," a brunch that looked at the hurdles female artists face... and featured a set from hitmaker Carly Pearce as proof they can be overcome.

“Self-fulfilling prophecy” was the refrain heard throughout a panel discussion titled “Breaking Down the Barrier: A Conversation About Women in Country Music,” held at Nashville’s Cambria Hotel on Tuesday to address the shockingly low levels of representation in a genre that once seemed far more female-friendly.

Moderated by Variety features editor Chris Willman and hosted in partnership with CMT ahead of the network’s all-female “CMT Artists of the Year” telecast on Oct. 17, the panel assembled to discuss issues female artists face in the current landscape included five of the most influential women in country music: CMT’s senior VP of music strategy, Leslie Fram, who also hosted the event; Creative Nation co-founder Beth Laird; Callie Cunningham of Red Light Management; Stephanie Wright, VP of A&R at Universal Music Group Nashville; and songwriter Nicolle Galyon.

Galyon, who’s written hits for the likes of Miranda Lambert, Kenny Chesney and Camilla Cabello, revealed that country radio’s pushback on female artists really sank in when iHeartRadio host Bobby Bones flatly declared that the reason Raelynn’s “Love Triangle,” a song that received praise throughout the industry, stalled on the charts was due to the fact that it’s sung by a woman. “The big argument that everyone keeps hearing from radio is ‘Just give us great songs,’ and I think that was very defeating for me to hear that it wasn’t about the song, it was really about who was singing it,” Galyon said. “That was a big light bulb for me, of ‘We’re up against something here.'”

Wright cited Kacey Musgraves as an artist who’s forged her own successful path without the recent help of country radio, while Fram noted that Miranda Lambert, an act who’s also received critical acclaim and multiple awards, “still doesn’t get a pass at radio.” Added Wright: “Great music is what everyone’s saying that they just have to have, and that’s not always a surefire way of getting a female voice out there and heard.”

An argument made by at least some country radio consultants, if not as often programmers, is that female listeners have a natural predilection to want to hear a diet of mostly men, a theory the panelists rejected. Wright reported that in some cases, female artists receive fewer spins during the day and more at night when listenership is lower. “It’s impossible to even say that these songs are researching because a big part of the research is familiarity, and if they’re not getting any exposure, then there’s no familiarity,” Cunningham explained. “So they’re not even getting a shot at getting accurate research in order to understand what people are responding to.”

Said Laird: “If everybody keeps saying ‘Females don’t want to hear females,’ there’s no research behind that, but I think people start thinking that maybe that’s true or they state it as fact. If a lot of songs all sound the same, if you drop in a really unique outside-the-box female vocal, it is going to sound out of place. Whereas if every third song you heard was an interesting female perspective, then that is what you would be used to and more accustomed to hearing.”

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - OCTOBER 16:(L-R) Chris Willman, Leslie Fram, Callie Cunningham, Beth Laird, Stephanie Wright and Nicolle Galyon speak on a panel at True Bar and Music Room on October 16, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Jason Davis/Variety)
CREDIT: Jason Davis for Variety

Fram made sure to mention that all of the artists being honored at the CMT Artists of the Year event have shared how the women that came before them influenced their careers. They also espouse that women’s voices are a vital part of the genre. “We’re actually at a crucial time in the format where we’re about to really hurt a lot of these artists in this whole decade of not having female voices, and the self-fulfilling prophecy part of it is this cycle,” said Fram of the ripple effect that can impact a female artist’s ability to tour or land a publishing deal. “It’s this vicious cycle that we have to get ourselves out of and I think that’s why we’re all having this conversation today to see what those solutions could be.”

Rising artist Carly Pearce closed out the event with a trio of performances of “Doin’ it Right,” her current single “Hide the Wine” and first No. 1 hit “Every Little Thing.”

CMT’s Artists of the Year special features a just-announced tribute to Loretta Lynn, in addition to honorees Carrie Underwood, Maren Morris, Miranda Lambert, Kelsea Ballerini, Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott and Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman. Among previously announced performances, Morris will be joined by Brandi Carlile for a tribute to Aretha Franklin, Ballerini will team up with Gladys Knight and Scott will go gospel with Kirk Franklin and Tori Kelly.

More Music

  • Hikaru Utada to Perform 'Kingdom Hearts'

    Hikaru Utada to Perform 'Kingdom Hearts' Songs in PlayStation VR

    PlayStation VR owners can catch a special performance from Japanese-American singer-songwriter Hikaru Utada starting on Friday, Jan. 18, according to the PlayStation Blog. Filmed at the Yokohama Arena, the “Hikaru Utada Laughter in the Dark Tour 2018 – ‘Hikari’ & ‘Chikai’ – VR” features two songs from the “Kingdom Hearts” franchise — “Simple and Clean” [...]

  • Heather Parry Live Nation

    Live Nation Investigation of Heather Parry Also Targets Leakers (EXCLUSIVE)

    Over the past two weeks, the law firm of Paul Hastings LLP has been probing allegations reported by Variety last month that Heather Parry, the head of Live Nation Productions, had verbally abused employees and used offensive language in the workplace. But the lead investigator, Elena Baca, seems to be just as interested in uncovering [...]

  • Gladys Knight

    Gladys Knight to Sing National Anthem at Super Bowl

    The Super Bowl just got more soulful. Gladys Knight will sing the National Anthem during Super Bowl LIII. The seven-time Grammy-winner’s performance will take place during the pre-game festivities and be televised live on CBS before the game’s kickoff. “I am proud to use my voice to unite and represent our country in my hometown [...]

  • Maren Morris

    Maren Morris Reveals Dates for Massive Tour Supporting New Album, 'Girl'

    Maren Morris today announced dates for her headlining to in support of her forthcoming sophomore album, “Girl.” The tour launches in Chicago on March 9 and features country artists Cassadee Pope and RaeLynn in support. Tickets for the general on-sale will begin Tuesday, January 22 at 10 a.m. local time. Citi is the official presale credit card [...]

  • Grammy Awards60th Annual Grammy Awards, Press

    Camila Cabello, Cardi B, Post Malone, More to Perform at Grammy Awards

    The Recording Academy announced the first group of artists to perform on this year’s 61st annual Grammy Awards: nominees Camila Cabello, Cardi B, Dan + Shay, Post Malone, Shawn Mendes, Janelle Monáe, and Kacey Musgraves. The big show will be hosted by Alicia Keys and broadcast live on CBS at 8 p.m. ET 5 p.m. PT [...]

  • Kew Media Boards Michael Jackson Documentary

    Kew Media Boards Michael Jackson Documentary 'Leaving Neverland' for International

    Kew Media Distribution has boarded controversial Michael Jackson sex-abuse documentary “Leaving Neverland” ahead of its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Kew Media has taken international distribution rights (excluding U.K. and U.S.) to the two-part documentary, which is a co-production of HBO and British broadcaster Channel 4. Directed by BAFTA-winner Dan Reed, “Leaving [...]

  • Cardi B

    Cardi B Slams Trump Administration for Government Shutdown

    Cardi B took to Instagram Wednesday night to call out the U.S. government for the shutdown that began Dec. 22. While the Bronx-bred rapper has mostly shied away from politics, she didn’t hold back in the minute-long clip. “Trump is now ordering federal workers to go back to work without getting paid,” said Cardi, who went [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content